Almost exactly a year ago, Path first launched. I remember the initial response being highly mixed. Some found its smaller network refreshing. Others thought it was just about the dumbest thing they’d ever seen. Something about it struck me. Not even the product itself as much as the core concept behind it. And I took to this blog to write as much.
A year later, Path was never able to take off in a way that a service like Instagram has. But it should have been pretty clear from the get-go that their trajectories would be far different. Path was a service that went out of its way to dampen the viral effects that bring in massive amounts of users.
They were trying to do something different. Perhaps stubbornly so.
The next phase of that journey starts tonight. Path version 2 has just gone live for iPhone and Android. I’ve had the chance to play around with it for a few weeks, and it’s fantastic. It’s probably the most beautiful social app ever developed for iOS — something which I don’t say lightly. And it certainly has to be the best-looking app on the Android platform — something which I say fairly lightly.
But looks were never a problem with Path. They needed to focus on more than photo-sharing. They needed an app that would out-Facebook Facebook. That’s exactly what they’re doing with Path 2.
What they’re dubbing the “Smart Journal”, the new Path is an app that allows you to quickly record all kinds of things you’re doing while out and about. You can still share pictures and videos, but you can also share your location, what music you’re listening to, who you’re with, and even if you’re sleeping.
Perhaps even more compelling, you can also now share things passively. When you travel, for example, if you turn on background location, you can let your friends know where you are by simply opening the app — no button pushing required.
Others have tried this before, but it works with Path because of the limited network. They’re starting to put two-and-two together.
The limited network concept is red-hot right now. But I’m of the mindset that everyone is going about it the wrong way. Facebook started as a limited network, but has steadily been opening up as the need to pull in revenue via an advertising platform increases. Now they’re trying to have the best of both worlds with Smart Lists. They’re okay. Just okay.
Meanwhile, Google is going all-in on the concept of friend lists with Google+ Circles. They’ve created a compelling way to get people to put their friends in the circles, but management is still a huge pain in the ass. And people just aren’t going to do it.
Path’s approach is much more simple. Connect and share only with those you’re closest to. One list. If you really want to share something more broadly, syndicate it out to Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare from Path.
Will the pressures to make money at scale eventually outweigh this desire to create the truly personal network? Perhaps. But I believe the Path team will be able to figure out other ways to monetize. I believe they’re tapping into something which people yearn for. And I believe they have the opportunity to nail it thanks to the mobile revolution. That’s why I’m very excited CrunchFund has invested in Path.
Google’s mistake is that there is no beating Facebook at their own game. They may not think they’re playing Facebook’s game, but they are. And Facebook is still out-executing them. But if Facebook has one glaring weakness, it’s mobile.
Zuckerberg often talks about the need to build something social from the ground up when explaining why rivals or other apps fail. The same is true for mobile. Concepts need to be rethought for mobile from the ground up. Facebook’s mobile apps are just shoving Facebook into a mobile skin (though their Messages app, built from the mobile-first Beluga, is an exception). Path, with no legacy baggage, can own this.
Mobile is not only the future of personal computing, it’s the most personal form of computing. It’s a machine you’ll have with you during all the most important moments in your life. That’s the opportunity here.